Edward II

by

Christopher Marlowe

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Edward II: Act 2, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lancaster, Warwick, Pembroke, Mortimer Junior, and their forces chase after Gaveston, who is taunting them as he enters. Mortimer and Lancaster respond with threats of death, and accuse Gaveston of causing civil unrest by “corrupting” Edward. Lancaster, in fact, compares Gaveston to “the Greekish strumpet” (i.e. Helen) whose love affair started the Trojan War. Warwick, however, urges the other nobles not to speak to Gaveston and instead orders the soldiers to seize Gaveston.
Mortimer and Lancaster's words to Gaveston in this scene quite clearly tie England's current state of turmoil to Gaveston's relationship with Edward. Elements of their criticism appear to stem specifically from homophobia: Mortimer, for instance, calls Gaveston a "corrupter" of the King, implying that Gaveston has introduced Edward to a particularly illicit lifestyle. Interestingly, however, Lancaster compares Gaveston and Edward's relationship to the heterosexual affair between Helen and Paris, which ultimately resulted in the fall of Troy. This suggests that there is something potentially dangerous or destructive about sexuality in general, over and apart from homosexuality in particular.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Fear of the Other and Internal Discord Theme Icon
Language and Violence Theme Icon
Warwick at first intends to hang Gaveston for “[his] country's cause,” but then decides to give him the relative honor of a beheading. At that moment, however, Lord Maltravers arrives, explaining that he has been sent to request that Edward be allowed to see Gaveston before the latter dies. The nobles at first refuse, even when Gaveston himself seconds the King's request. Although Maltravers says that Edward has promised to surrender Gaveston when the meeting is over, Warwick says they cannot trust the word of a king who “the care of realm remits, / And drives his nobles to these exigents.” Eventually, however, Pembroke agrees to escort Gaveston to the King and back. The other nobles agree, but Warwick—who does so reluctantly—says in an aside that he will attempt to thwart the plan.
The debate over how and when to execute Gaveston encapsulates many of the  questions Marlowe poses about social status in medieval and Renaissance England. Although members of the nobility were not exempt from execution, they were entitled to the theoretically more dignified method of beheading. Warwick's decision not to hang Gaveston is therefore a small concession to Gaveston's status  as the "favourite of a king." Gaveston, however, characteristically undercuts the idea that there is any real difference between the punishments allotted to commoners and nobleman, and therefore implies that there is not much difference between commoners and noblemen in general. Meanwhile, Pembroke's decision to allow a final meeting between Edward and Gaveston signals his lingering respect for the monarchy, in spite of everything Edward himself has done. Although Pembroke presumably agrees that Edward has failed to live up to his responsibilities as king, he nevertheless feels that Edward is due a certain amount of consideration simply by virtue of being king.
Themes
Sex, Lineage, and the Natural Order Theme Icon
Monarchy, Legitimacy, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trumpets sound, and everyone but Gaveston, Maltravers, and Pembroke leaves. Pembroke explains that his house is nearby and invites Maltravers to stay there. Maltravers accepts, so Pembroke places Gaveston in the keeping of James—one of his men—for the night. The group therefore splits up, Gaveston wondering unhappily where he is being taken now.
Gaveston's fall from power is quick and absolute. Where he was previously one of the play's most resourceful characters, skillfully using his relationship with Edward to advance his own interests, Gaveston is now reduced to a completely passive position. This establishes a pattern that will hold true throughout the rest of the play: characters who initially believe themselves to be in control of their own lives are eventually revealed to be at the mercy of fate.
Themes
Fortune and Tragedy Theme Icon